It’s time for another book review and swap. This time, I’m featuring Sorceress Awakening, by Lisa Blackwood, yet another veteran Urban Fantasy author who has published several works for her series A Gargoyle and Sorceress.
This swap and review is special, because all revenue from the first three books of the Gargoyle & Sorceress series will go to purchase seeds and supplies for the propagation of tree seedlings to help combat climate change.
While reading the free sample of this book, I found it hard to turn off my editor/writer brain and let myself enjoy reading. There were a lot of moments where I had to pause and think of what I would change to “improve” the story. Please do not take this as a negative or as a reason to not give this book a chance – it’s worth the read! But I have a lot to say and won’t hold back on my honest thoughts and opinions. So, without further ado, I will dive into writing style, world building, and characterization.
We are introduced to Lillian, a seemingly normal girl who is thrown into a world of magic and mystery when she is ambushed by vampiric fiends who desire her magic. This event sends her on a course of discovery alongside her guardian, a stone gargoyle that sat in her family’s garden maze.
Before going much further, it is important to note that this is the first novel of a series, so the world that Blackwood is creating has not yet been established for the reader. We are just as ignorant and new to magic as the protagonist. This is an easy writing convention that can help a reader connect with the main character of a story and learn about the world without having to dump exposition or explanation on the reader. Unfortunately, I found myself more confused than I would hope when being thrown into a new world. I am five chapters in and still don’t know what’s going on, why things are happening, or how the story will move forward. I don’t think this is a fault of the world Blackwood is trying to build. Rather, I think it is simply an issue of pacing and editing.
There was a jarring moment while reading where I realized that some changes in chapter placement would have greatly benefited the flow of the story. The best example I can give is Chapter One. Upon the first sentence of the book, you are thrown directly into the middle of the action: Lillian is fleeing through a maze to escape the threat of her pursuers. It is a style of writing that is drilled into the head of any Creative Writing student – “start with action always.” Blackwood does a great job of describing the whirlwind and confusion of the moment, but it is almost too fast. I’m a bit lost on the setting and what the maze looks like. I’m lacking the connection with the main character other than knowing she is the main character and that she’s in danger. Yet there are several times where I felt that the pacing suddenly slowed to a crawl. Particularly during the moment where Lillian is bleeding out next to the redwood tree and the vampire is standing and watching her as she has a monologue in her thoughts. I immediately thought, “why isn’t he just running up and killing her now?” It’s not explained until chapter three why he’s not approaching, and it’s because of magical wards.
Moving on, chapter two is exactly what we need to provide the context that was missing in the first chapter. It is a flashback that provides us with who Lillian is, why she’s at the maze to begin with, and sets the tone for her kinship with the gargoyle statue. We get the explanation of the memory loss that is crucial to understand why she’s so confused about magic. I found myself really connecting with her in this moment and wished we had started here rather than having the flashback.
Which leads to my biggest gripe for chapter three. Half-way through the chapter, we are given word for word chapter one again. We are caught up with where we started, but I found myself skipping over the rest of the chapter because I had just read it only a few minutes prior. In my personal opinion, chapter one could be scrapped completely. The book could easily start with us meeting Lillian and the gargoyle, followed by her being ambushed and chased through the maze. We wouldn’t have the repetition of the same scene and the pacing would be better overall.
I do want to praise Blackwood for her style of writing. It is VERY clean and clear – no grammatical errors or typos that made it impossible to continue, really great tone of voice for Lillian throughout, and a dynamic style of writing. She also describes the use of magic beautifully. One of my favorite moments was discovering that the redwood tree was connected to Lillian and how dryads and their magic worked. It was something I had never read before and it immediately gripped me. Another thing I love is that Blackwood uses third person limited point of view. I also love that we got a chapter from the gargoyle’s point of view. Stories written from multiple perspectives is my FAVORITE, especially for romance.
Speaking of romance, that was a twist I DID NOT see coming. I don’t know why I didn’t expect it, but I was shooketh when the gargoyle started going on about how he could only save Lillian by letting her drink his blood – an act that is only performed during mating rituals. A question that came to mind during that moment was whether dryads crave blood, because they are typically fae, unless she’s also part vampire somehow? I digress. Overall, I was a bit taken aback because the gargoyle is described as very animal-like and the scene itself got a bit steamy. Not my personal favorite type of romance, but it’s not going to turn me away from wanting to read more! Again, I feel most of my concerns will be resolved once I’m further into the worldbuilding. Plus, I’m a sucker for forbidden love (um, hello Art of Falling.)
Now onto characterization: I really like Lillian and the gargoyle. I think their dynamic is solid, and individually their personalities and how they are interacting with the world are interesting. I can’t wait to see how they really start to work together to take on the great looming evil of the world. As a reader, I was also able to connect with Lillian easily because her own ignorance is a safe comfort for me as a reader who is not familiar with Blackwood’s world. That being said, I feel the memory-loss trope only works for Lillian. As I continued reading, I realized that the gargoyle was also missing key memories and that made me pause again. If Lillian’s guardian has no idea what’s going on, who is supposed to act as the guide? Once again, if I were writing this book, I think I would have taken the role of the gargoyle in a slightly different direction.
In the end, I recommend giving Sorceress Awakening a read if you’re looking for a fresh urban fantasy with a hint of romance. It’s currently available on Amazon Kindle for $3.99 or FREE with Kindle Unlimited, along with the rest of the A Gargoyle and Sorceress series. Go buy it! It’s for a good cause!